Egyptian workers, suppressed by a government-sponsored and government-run labor federation, have broken away to form their own independent unions and federation and join the popular protests against President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial rule.

In a Jan. 30 declaration the new Egyptian Federation of Independent Unions said its demands include the right to organize and the right to work at a decent minimum wage, rather than be unemployed.

Like the other protesters, the new federation also demands Mubarak quit. The federation then called a general strike to back its demands.

The new federation, unveiled at a press conference in the jammed central Tahrir Square in Cairo, includes the Real Estate Tax Authority (RETA) workers, the Retired Workers Union, the Health Professionals Union, the Teachers Independent Union and several other independent unions.

The workers’ movement drew support from both AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the International Trades Union Congress. Trumka said the new confederation’s role in the protests “inspires us and will not be forgotten.”

To gain their goals, the new confederation’s constitution called on its members to organize “civil committees to defend their workplaces” and to strike and protest, “except in vital industries. It left “vital” undefined.

“Workers and people struggled for decades and participated…in unprecedented recurrent protest actions to defend their legal rights. They succeeded in their endeavor despite the lack of independent union organization, stolen piece by piece for decades. They succeeded in attracting larges social sectors, and mobilizing greater sympathy among the Egyptian society, workers and union movements,” their declaration says.

The new confederation’s declaration also demands “a new fair minimum wage that guarantees decent living for all workers,” a “maximum wage” no more than 10 times the minimum, and unemployment compensation, among other things. And workers have “rights to bonuses and benefits according to work value, especially compensation for those facing work hazards,” the new union confederation said.

Workers “fought courageously to defend their democratic right to organize and create independent union organizations. Labor struggles paved the way to today’s ‘people revolution.’

That is why Egypt’s workers and employees totally refuse that the ‘governmental’ general federation represents them and speaks in their name, because it often denied their rights and claims,” the new labor federation declared.

The government-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation even issued a Jan. 27 statement opposing all the anti-Mubarak protests, said the new federation. The new independent labor federation also demanded freedom for everyone arrested during the protests, which began on Jan. 25.

Trumka wrote to RETA President Kamal Abu Eita and to Kamal Abbas, director of the Independent Egyptian labor group, the Center for Trade Union Worker Services, that their “organizations symbolize the strrength and courage of Egyptian workers and their families who have been standing up to repression for many years.”

“We salute you in this brave endeavor” of forming the new labor federation “and join the international labor movement in standing with you,” Trumka added. “The peoples’ movement for democracy in Egypt and the role unions are playing for freedom and worker rights inspires us and will not be forgotten,” he concluded.

The new confederation also demanded “the right for all Egyptian citizens to fair social security including the right to health care, housing, education – ensuring free education and syllabus development to cope with science and technology evolution – and the right for all retired to decent pensions and benefits.”

“Egypt is going through historical moments,” the new federation declared. “Its people is courageously struggling to defend the right to live a decent life… the right to dignity, freedom and social justice… to decent opportunities and just pay… to a democratic society for all, offering every single citizen a share in its wealth and GNP… a society that does not allow few to buy private jets whereas the rest of the population cannot even afford public transportation… a society that refuses to pay the top of the pyramid salaries higher thousand of time than minimum wage.”

And the union federation is also campaigning for “a society that allows its people to breathe freely… to freely speak, interact and express itself… a society that allows all people categories and classes to defend their interests and negotiate freely… a society that does not oppress its people, inhibits its ambitions and natural tendencies to develop workers’ capacities and improve their life conditions.”



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.